(featuring the Symphony Orchestra of Milan, conducted by Sergiu Celibidache, in March 1959 recordings)
The ever-self-doubting Johannes Brahms (1833-97) had long-steeled his nerve, when it came to composing Chamber music, but when it came to creating a symphony, his habitual worrying haunted him for over twenty years of his early creative life. Thus, it took Brahms more than fifteen years to create his First Symphony, and even at the premiere, he was wracked with nerves, doubting that anyone would even appreciate the work, never mind love it ...
He needn't have worried ; even the great Hans von Bulow (himself a superb composer, pianist and conductor, just like Brahms ...) said of Brahms' Symphony No.1 "as if it were Ludwig van Beethoven's Tenth!".
Disc One : Symphony No.1 in D minor Op.68, by Brahms (1876) :-
1) I Un poco sostenuto - Allegro 2) II Andante sostenuto 3) III Un poco allegretto e grazioso 4) IV Adagio - Piu andante - Allegro non troppo ma con brio.
Within months after the long-awaited premiere of his First Symphony, Brahms produced another one. Decades of struggle and soul-searching and were finally over. The second was written over a summer holiday at the picture-postcard village of Portschach, on the Worthersee, where Brahms had rented two tiny rooms for his summer holiday. The rooms apparently were ideal for composition, even though the hallway was so narrow that Brahms' piano couldn’t be moved up the stairs.
Later that summer, when Brahms' friend Theodore Billroth, an amateur musician, played through the score for the first time, he wrote to the composer at once: "It is all rippling streams, blue sky, sunshine, and cool green shadows. How beautiful it must be at Portschach." Eventually listeners began to call this Brahms' "Pastoral" Symphony, again raising the comparison with Beethoven (but if Brahms' Second Symphony has a true companion, it is the violin concerto he would write the following summer in Portschach—cut from the same D-major cloth and reflecting the mood and even some of the thematic material of the symphony).
Disc Two 1)-4) : Symphony No.2 in D major Op.73, by Brahms (1877) :-
1) I Allegro non troppo 2) II Adagio non troppo - L'istesso tempo ma grazioso 3) III Allegretto grazioso (Quasi andantino) 4) IV Allegro con spirit.
As the listener hears Brahms' richly romantic Third Symphony, he or she gets a real sense that Johannes had really hit his stride as a composer ... by the time he reached this, his penultimate symphony, in 1883, he had clearly found his own voice. Sweeping, lyrical string lines and beautifully autumnal woodwind passages make this a delight from start to finish.
While some other great composers had a reputation for being curmudgeonly, Brahms was by now, of an altogether sunnier disposition. If you’re in any doubt, listen for the musical clue that runs through this symphony: the notes F–A flat–F occur repeatedly, and allude to the composer’s own saying, ‘frei aber froh’ – which translates as ‘free but happy’.
Disc Two 5)-8) : Symphony No.3 in F major Op.90, by Brahms (1883) :-
5) I Allegro con brio 6) II Andante 7) III Poco allegretto 8) IV Allegro.
Brahms' Fourth Symphony is a reliable staple of concert programmes the world over. It contains some of the deepest music of the 19C, and received a rapturous reception, upon its premiere in Meningen, Germany, in October 1885 ...
Disc Three : Symphony No.4 in E minor Op.98, by Brahms (1885) :-
1) I Allegro non troppo 2) II Andante moderato 3) III Allegro giocoso 4) Allegro energico e passionate - Piu allegro (Tema con Variazioni).
Discs One & Two are both in EX- condition.
Disc Three is in EX+ condition.